Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for violence.
How about this?" Miles held up a dark blue, ankle-length skirt. It was thick but fairly flexible, good for keeping the cold out, and movement free. Never did Miles think he would be shopping for a young girl where manueverability to escape a maniac with a magic sword was going to be part of theclothing requirement list. But here they were. Gwyn seemed apprehensive about picking anything. She stood by him, running a hand along it as Miles lapped it over his two arms.
"It is very nice." It wasn't exactly a yes from Gwyn, but so far, none of the items in the shop had been a quick yes.
Miles nodded slowly. He looked around the interior. There were a few racks of jackets, pants, jerkins and shirts. They stood by a table with several dresses and skirts laid out. Two spinning poles had a rainbow of scarves hanging over them, and there was a small glass display with jewelry.
"There are a lot of options, aren't there?"
Gwyn sighed and shook her head up and down. He shoulders slouched. "I don't know how to pick."
"How about I do it for you? I can give you some outfits, and you tell me your favorite."
Miles whisked around the shop, rummaging through the racks and digging through laid out clothes. The shopkeeper stood behind a short counter, one eye raised as he watched in silence. Miles gave him a nod and smile as he strode by the counter, arriving back to Gwyn.
"Alright. In the first option we have an earthy theme. Brown pants and jacket, a dark green shirt and and some new insulated boots."
Gwyn bit her lip. "Mmm, I don't know. Kind of looks like dirt."
Miles guffawed. "Well then perhaps this next option will catch your eye. Call it Divergent Waves."
He tossed the brown outfit on the table with his left hand, and pulled the new outfit from behind his back with his right. The same blue skirt from earlier, a white shirt, a thick winter jacket with an orange hue and fur along the buttons down the front and at the cuffs.
Gwyn's eyebrows raised.
"Do we have a winning combination?" Miles asked.
Gwyn still hesitated. "I mean, I do really like it."
"It feels weird, not paying for it. I've never had clothes that nice before. I didn't do anything for them."nCarris put her hands together and swayed slightly from side to side.
Miles kneeled down. He looked Gwyn in her chocolate, round, pained eyes. "Gwyn, after what you have been through, you deserve this and more. Now, go find a scarf for your hair, and I'll pay."
He stood and turned to the shopkeeper. "Top of the morning to you sir."
The keeper grunted. "Find what you like?"
"Yes, I think the skirt will match the complexion of my hair quite well."
The keeper didn't even smile, let alone laugh.
Miles shrugged it off internally. "We'll be adding a scarf to this. Is there some place she can change?"
The keeper nodded to the back of the shop where a faded white cotton curtain draped over an entryway.
Miles produced a few coins, less than half of what he had on his person, and placed them on the counter. He leaned on it and jammed a thumb towards a window by the main entrance, where flurries were now swirling and booth tarps were shaking out at the vendors booths.
"Quite the storm headed in, eh?"
Keeper just shrugged. "I've seen worse."
"Been here long?"
Miles stood straight. "Wow. You've seen your fair share of storms coming off the mountain then. Seems almost fantastical the way the wind swirls down."
Keeper grunted. "What are you, a poet?"
Miles smiled. "I was, once upon a time. The war has made that a less desired commodity."
Gwyn tapped lightly from behind. Miles spun to see her outstretching a red scarf with blue embroidery.
"Excellent choice Gwyn." He pointed to the curtain. "See that doorway? You can change just back there. I'll be right here if you need anything."
Gwyn nodded, gathering up the mass of clothing in her arms and carefully pushing through the curtain that flapped back to shape as she disappeared behind it.
"As I was saying," Miles began again, turning back to Keeper, who, with less than an enthusiastic expression had leaned against the wall. "This reminds me of that children's poem. The one about the cow?"
Keeper rolled his eyes. "Can you not just wait in peace and quiet."
Miles grinned. "That's not my forte. Like I said though, I used to be a poet. I could never aspire to be as great as some of our old poets. What was that cow called? You know, the one based on that old farmer's tale."
Keeper sighed heavily. "If I tell you will you leave me be? I've got things to do."
Miles looked left, then right, noting exactly zero other customers. He gave a slight bow and spread his hands out. "Please proceed and I'll be out of your hair."
Keeper began, with all the energy of a hibernating bear. "You're talking of the Black Bull."
Miles snapped his fingers. "That's it!" He blushed. "forgive me for interrupting. Continue."
With a huff, Keeper did. "Story goes that a farmer was attacked by a band of ruffians. He was beaten near death when his prized black bull broke from its pasture. Gored those bandits so bad. disappeared into the wilderness, and was never found."
"Yes, yes, my mother used to tell me that as a child. It became the unofficial symbol of Sadoria." Miles said, snapping his fingers as if it was all coming back to him for the first time in years. "But now the Bull legend has turned into a man?"
Keeper nodded. "Supposed to be a physical manifestation of this bull, a savior for our lands." He gazed at the floor and crossed his arms. "Clearly a tale is all it was. Look at this place. A prisoner in my home." A slight blush rushed into his cheeks as he folded his arms tightly. " They said it was impossible. Atheron would never fall."
Miles leaned in now, both hands on the counter. The room had seemed to get quieter, the air thicker. "Don't give up hope just yet friend."
Keeper huffed for the thirtieth time it seemed like. "Why shouldn't I? Atheron has been under this occupation for over two years now. If word is true, as soon as spring comes the last of the Sadorian army will be crushed at Cahl. Then it will be final. Sadoria will no longer be."
"My friend, have you not heard?" Miles said.
Miles's eyes narrowed. "The Black Bull is real. And he's on the move."
Keeper looked at Miles dead in the eyes, said nothing for a moment, and then burst out laughing. He wheezed and coughed and slapped his knee. "You really are some strange kind of man," he got out as he tried to steady his breathing.
Miles never broke his gaze. "I have it on good authority that he's already broken through Hoden's Pass and is on his way here."
Keeper laughed again, but this time there was a bitterness in his voice. "You think this is funny? What are you, some kind of jester here to mock? Hoden's Pass is unbreakable, and the Black Bull is a child's tale." He stepped toward the counter, wiping his nose with his sleeve and jabbing a finger at Miles. "I suggest you leave now, before you find yourself in a heap out back!"
Miles reached into his pocket and slammed the carving of the Black Bull on the counter. This caused Keeper to pause in his stride. His eyes flitted over it and back to Miles.
"What is that, a toy?"
"It's a totem that the Black Bull and his followers carry. But you know that. Your mother, like mine, taught us the childhood stories. I can see it in your eyes. And you don't want to believe it, believe that there is hope; but you will see, soon enough."
A whoosh of the curtain brought the two men out of their discourse. Gwyn strode out, dressed head to toe in her new clothing.
Miles threw out his hands. A smile breached his intense demeanor from ear to ear. "You look great, Gwyn! Carris won't even recognize you."
Gwyn blushed, giving her skirt a subtle turn from side to side.
Miles laughed.: "Come on then, give it a proper swirl."
Gwyn stretched her arms out and gave it a proper twirl. as instructed The blue skirt swirled like a tornado, rippling the fabric like the rush of a flock of birds. She had also braided her hair in a long ponytail, and it spun like a whip, flicking as she came to a stop three full twirls later. She staggered slightly to the side and Miles dashed to her side to catch her arm as she reached at nothing to balance herself. A laugh escaped her lips. Miles laughed with her. For a moment there was no heaviness in Gwyn's presence, simply childlike glee.
Miles let go of her arm as she righted herself and smoothed her skirt and jacket.
"We're off then." He tossed an extra coin to Keeper as then passed by. With a wink, he said: "Keep your chin up. Forces are in motion now. Sadoria hasn't seen its last days, and the war has just begun."